Swedish Romantics: Kurt Atterberg Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8

Again Atterberg shows great skill in orchestral writing. Both symphonies use much folklore. Performances were highly praised, particularly among orchestra members, when the CD was recorded. A must for all collectors of Atterberg!
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In 1942 Atterberg was re-examining the score of his opera Fanal (1929-1932) and found much of the material of the opera to be symphonic in nature. He decided to use some of the Fanal music as the basis for a fully symphonic work. He also intended this symphony as a Romantic manifesto against modern compositional trends, hence its title, Sinfonia Romantica. Originally in the standard four movements, the last movement was later withdrawn by Atterberg, who used some of the material in his late orchestral work, Vittorioso. The Sinfonia Romantica begins with a regular sonata-allegro movement, which, after opening fanfares, is based on a vigorous and decisive theme. Originally Atterberg intended the movement to be built around the best-known aria from Fanal but eventually found that he had a full symphonic movement even with the aria removed. The last movement is based on a series of dances from the first act of Fanal. Atterberg treats these dances in a completely symphonic fashion, but the dance element is always present and although the coda is almost tragic, the dance element asserts itself again as the symphony ends.

Only two years after completing the Sinfonia Romantica, Atterberg decided to write a symphony based on Swedish folksongs. He had already done something similar with the Symphony No. 4 (Sinfonia Piccola) but in the new work Atterberg was concerned to write a symphony that avoided the two pitfalls of a mere fantasy on folk-tunes and a true symphony that obscured the folk nature of the original material. The symphony opens with a mysterious introduction before the presentation of the well-known (in Sweden at least) Cavalier’s Song but in a jaunty fashion rather than the melancholy one that is usually heard. This is contrasted with a drinking song from Västmanland (somewhat northwest of Stockholm) and the two are developed with great imagination, and some of the composer’s most felicitous orchestration, before a gripping coda. As the themes become more and more integrated and compressed we have a true exemplar of the composer’s technical skill.

The playing of the Malmö orchestra remains as an example of spirited performance, especially in the crucial woodwinds. The Malmö Symphony have a true feeling for Atterberg’s phrasing and sense of orchestral color. The same can be said for Michail Jurowski. His rendering of the Sinfonia Romantica is excellent in all regards, but in the 8th he produces as fine an Atterberg performance as one is likely to hear. It stands out, especially in the 8th, as an expert example of Atterberg performance. William Kreindler, MusicWeb

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